Hachis Parmentier, where have you been all my life? That is what I wondered after listening to Dorie Greenspan cooking this French version of shepherd’s pie on NPR. Dorie Greenspan’s new book, Around My French Table has been getting a lot of attention on the food blogs lately. And now there she was, cooking up a hearty supper on the radio. I have a great deal of faith in these NPR segments about Dorie Greenspan, as it was from another such story that I got my stand-by dessert recipe, tarte tatin.
I looked up the segment on NPR.org, and there was the recipe. Soon, my opportunity came to try this dish. Last Sunday, it was my turn to cook for the biweekly amazing race dinner party. It was time to debut Hachis Parmentier. For this crowd, I decided I had better double the recipe.
This was not a demanding or difficult dish to make by any means, but it did take a little time, what with the long simmering and the potato peeling and all. Fortunately, it could be done in stages. Of course, every stage was so delicious in its own right that it was difficult to keep from nibbling at the chunks of beef and sausage. Then the blanket of mashed potatoes that were spread over the tender meat filling was so good that I had to scrape the bowl and lick the spoon after I was done. And then the grated gruyere and emmental cheeses—well, I grated a little extra for myself.
Thank goodness for long-simmering dishes like this one that allow the cook to go take a Sunday afternoon nap while dinner burbles away on a back burner, filling the house with the warm scent of meat and potatoes, and return later to assemble the casserole, then clean up the kitchen in peace after dinner is tucked, cozily browning, into the oven.
Not much was needed to complete this meal–a green salad and some whole wheat rolls did the job nicely.
When dinner was served, and everyone sat expectantly in front of the TV with their food, there was a brief but profound silence, then: “This is so good!” and “Mmmm!” and “You should be a chef,” Well yes, except for the low pay, bad benefits, long hours and difficult working conditions…but I took the compliment in the spirit it was offered, a tribute to the joys of gathering for simple, flavorful comfort food on a rainy winter evening.
The sausage and beef filling was tender and intensely flavorful. The mashed potato topping was a creamy, salty, cheesy delight. The two combined to make something transcendent, far more than the simple sum of homely meat and potatoes.
There were no leftovers.
(adapted from Around My French Table by Dorie Greenspan)
For the beef and bouillon
- 1 pound boneless beef chuck or top round roast, cut into small pieces
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 1 medium carrot, trimmed, peeled and cut into 1-inch-long pieces
- 1 small celery stalk, trimmed and thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 2 parsley sprigs
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black peppercorns
- 6 cups water
- 1 beef bouillon cube
For the filling
- 1-1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, removed from casings if necessary
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
For the topping
- 2-3 pounds potatoes, peeled (and quartered, if large)
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 tbsp butter, at room temperature, plus 1 tablespoon butter, cut into bits
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 3/4 cup grated Gruyere and/or or Emmental cheese
- 2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
To make the beef: Put all the ingredients except the bouillon cube in a Dutch oven or soup pot and bring to a boil, skimming off the foam that bubbles to the surface. Lower the heat and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours.
Drain the meat, reserving the broth. Transfer the meat and vegetables to a cutting board. Strain the broth. (The beef and bouillon can be made up to one day ahead, covered and refrigerated.) Using a chef’s knife, chop the beef into tiny pieces.
To make the filling: Butter a 2-quart oven-safe casserole.
Put a large skillet over medium heat and pour in the olive oil. When it’s hot, add the sausage and cook, breaking up the clumps of meat, then drain. Add the chopped beef and tomato paste and stir to mix everything well. Stir in 1 cup of the bouillon and bring to a boil. You want to have just enough bouillon in the pan to moisten the filling and to bubble up gently wherever there’s a little room; if you think you need more, add it now. Season with salt and pepper. Scrape the filling into the casserole and set aside while you prepare the potatoes.
To make the topping: Put the potatoes in a large pot of generously salted cold water and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife, about 20 minutes; drain them well.
Meanwhile, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place a baking sheet on the rack below to catch drips.
Mash potatoes well. Using a wooden spoon or a sturdy spatula, stir in the milk and cream, then blend in the 3 tablespoons butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon the potatoes over the filling, spreading them evenly and making sure they reach to the edges of the casserole. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of the pie, dust with the Parmesan, and scatter over the bits of butter. Place the dish on the lined baking sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling steadily and the potatoes have developed a golden brown crust. Serve.
The beef and bouillon can be made up to a day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator, and the filling can be prepared a few hours ahead and kept covered in the fridge. You can even assemble the entire pie ahead and keep it chilled for a few hours before baking it (directly from the refrigerator if your casserole can stand the temperature change) — of course, you’ll have to bake it a little longer. If you’ve got leftovers, you can reheat them in a 350-degree-F oven.